Standard acknowledgements of debt and the National Credit Act (NCA)

The new NCA does not only regulate installment sale agreements and lease agreements in respect of movables as was done by its predecessor, the repealed Credit Agreements Act 75 of 1980. The NCA also applies to a much wider variety of credit agreements and has no monetary cap. Instead of instituting legal action a creditor often gets a debtor to sign an acknowledgement of debt to facilitate repayment. This document could contain a provision for instalments and interest and fees. The question arises whether this agreement in confirmation of an existing obligation constitutes a credit agreement for purposes of the NCA.The purpose of this Act is to promote and advance the social and economic welfare of South Africans, promote a fair, transparent, competitive, sustainable, responsible, efficient, effective and accessible credit market and industry, and to protect consumers.

“Credit”, when used as a noun, is defined in the Act as a deferral of payment of money owed to a person or a promise to defer such payment; or a promise to advance or pay money to or at the direction of another person.

“Agreement” includes an arrangement or understanding between or among two or more parties which purports to establish a relationship in law between those parties.

The parties to a credit agreement governed by the NCA are referred to as the “consumer” and the “credit provider” and these definitions should be considered. An acknowledgement of debt normally refers to a historical event of cause and does not constitute a credit guarantee or any of the named credit transactions such as a pawn agreement, discount agreement, incidental credit agreement, instalment agreement, lease, secured loan or mortgage agreement or credit facility. However, the fact that it contains a deferral of payment and requires the payment of interest, fees and other charges, will cause it to fall within the ambit of the catch-all term “credit transaction” provided for in Section 8(4)(f) of the Act.

Section 2(1) provides that the Act must be interpreted in a manner that gives effect to the purposes set out in Section 3. The question really is whether the legislature intended the rearrangement or the repayment terms of an existing debt, for instance where money has already been advanced to a consumer a considerable period of time ago or where damages were suffered as a result of a delict or breach of contract, to constitute a credit agreement or transaction for purposes of the NCA. Due to the elements of deferral and the charging of interest, fees and other charges in a standard acknowledgement of debt, and in the absence of any express or implicit indication to the contrary, it seems an inescapable conclusion that the agreement could be defined as a credit agreement within the meaning of the NCA. The relevance of this is that it might be that the credit provider would be required to register as such with the National Credit Regulator, affordability assessment would have to be done prior to conclusion, the consumer could become overindebted and apply for debt review, and so many onerous requirements will be applicable.

It is submitted that where the cause of action in relation to which the acknowledgement of debt was entered into is based on a contract or agreement which constitutes a credit agreement, the insertion of a no-novation clause into an acknowledgement of debt will not serve to exclude the agreement subsequently concluded, from the ambit of the NCA. However, where the debt initially arose as a result of a delict, the insertion of a no-novation clause might have the effect of preserving the original cause of action, namely the delict, and thus cause the matter to fall outside the scope of the NCA.

One thing to be kept in mind is that a “consumer”, in respect of a credit agreement to which the NCA applies, means

the party to whom goods or services are sold under a discount transaction, incidental credit agreement or instalment agreement;

  •  the party to whom money is paid, or credit granted, under a pawn transaction;
  •  the party to whom credit is granted under a credit facility;
  •  the mortgagor under a mortgage agreement;
  •  the borrower under a secured loan;
  •  the lessee under a lease;
  •  the guarantor under a credit guarantee; or
  •  the party to whom or at whose direction money is advanced or credit granted under any other credit agreement.
  • This definition might provide the answer as the acknowledgement of debt might, as a different cause of action, not qualify the consumer under the above definition. So, too, is the underlying cause of action to the acknowledgement of debt, and it deserves no debate that signing an acknowledgement of debt is not something to go about without due consideration.

Should a court be convinced that the written acknowledgement of debt is subject to the NCA the court could be required to make a ruling in terms of Section 130(4)(b) of the NCA, which states:

In any proceedings contemplated in this section, if the court determines that – … the credit provider has not complied with the relevant provisions of this Act, as contemplated in subsection (3)(a), or has approached the court in circumstances contemplated in subsection (3)(c) the court must – adjourn the matter before it; and make an appropriate order setting out the steps the credit provider must complete before the matter may be resumed.

In Adams v SA Motor Industry Employers Association 1981 (3) SA 1189 (A) at 1198 – 1199, the court held that there is a presumption against novation and that, where novation was not intended, it was possible for two obligations to co-exist. These obligations would be interdependent, and the creditor does not have a free election to enforce the original obligation. An acknowledgment of debt, sometimes referred to as an IOU, is evidence of a debt which is due, but differs from a promissory note as it does not contain an express promise to pay. However, where the acknowledgment of debt is coupled with an undertaking to pay, it will give rise to an obligation in terms of that undertaking.

The case of Rodel Financial Service (Pty) Ltd v Naidoo and Another 2013 (3) Sa 151 (Kzp), and its annotations is recommended for reading and getting a better understanding of the applicable principles.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Dealing with marriage and estate planning

It is important to understand the legal implications of the marital property regime, especially when drafting a Last Will and Testament and also when entering into a marriage, as the regime chosen by the estate planner is going to affect his/her assets.The most important forms of marriage are: marriage in community of property, marriage out of community of property (without accrual), and marriage out of community of property (with accrual).

Marriage in community of property

1. There is no prior contractual arrangement, apart from getting married;
2. Spouses do not have two distinct estates;
3. There is a joint estate, with each spouse having a 50% share in each and every asset in the estate (no matter in whose name it is registered);
4. Applies to assets acquired before the marriage and during the marriage;
5. Should one spouse incur debts in his own name it will automatically bind his/her spouse, who will also become liable for the debt;
6. If a sequestration takes place (in the case of insolvency), the joint estate is sequestrated.

Marriage out of community of property without the accrual system

1. An antenuptial contract (ANC) is drawn up by an attorney (who is registered as a notary), before the marriage;
2. Where there is no contract, the marriage is automatically in community of property;
3. The values of each spouse’s estate on going into the marriage are stipulated in the contract;
4. A marriage by ANC means that all property owned by spouses before the date of the marriage will remain the sole property of each spouse;
5. Each spouse controls his/her own estate exclusively without interference from the other spouse, although each has a duty to contribute to the household expenses according to his/her means;
6. To allow for assets acquired by spouses during the marriage to remain the sole property of each spouse, the accrual system must be specifically excluded in the ANC.

Marriage out of community of property with the accrual system

1. The accrual system automatically applies unless expressly excluded in the antenuptial contract;
2. The accrual system addresses the question of the growth of each spouse’s estate after the date of marriage.

Estate planning

Donations between spouses are exempt from donations tax and estate duty.

Marriage in community of property

1. In the event of the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse will have a claim for 50% of the value of the combined estate, thus reducing the actual value of the estate by 50%. The estate is divided after all the debts have been settled in a deceased estate (not including burial costs and estate duty, as these are the sole obligations of the deceased and not the joint estate).
2. When drafting a Last Will and Testament, spouses married in community of property need to be aware that it is only half of any asset that he or she is able to bequeath.
3. Upon the death of one spouse, all banking accounts are frozen (even if they are in the name of one of the spouses), which could affect liquidity.
4. Donations or bequests to someone married in community of property can be made to exclude the community of property; in other words, if the donor stipulates that the donation must not fall into the joint estate, then the donee can build up a separate estate. However, returns on such separate assets will go back to the joint estate.

Marriage out of community of property without the accrual system

Each estate planner (spouse) retains possession of assets owned prior to the marriage.

Marriage out of community of property with the accrual system

A donation from one spouse to the other spouse is excluded from the calculation of each spouse’s accrual; in other words, the recipient does not include it in his growth and the donor’s accrual is automatically reduced by the donation amount.

Divorce

In the event of divorce, the marriage will be dissolved by court decree, which will address such aspects as child maintenance, access, guardianship and custody, spousal maintenance, the division of assets, division of pension interests and so on.

Cohabitation and definition of “spouse”

Cohabitation is defined as a stable, monogamous relationship where a couple who do not wish to or cannot get married, live together as spouses. The Taxation Laws Amendment Act has extended the definition of “spouses” to include “a same sex or heterosexual union which the Commissioner is satisfied is intended to be permanent”.

Many pieces of legislation, including the Pension Funds Amendment Act and the Taxation Laws Amendment Act, now define spouse to include a partner in a cohabitative relationship, the effects of which are that cohabitees will benefit from the Section 4(q) estate duty deduction in the Estate Duty Act, and the donations tax exemptions of the Income Tax Act.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Consider your claim carefully: Some of the need to know facts in the event of a third party claim against the RAF (Road Accident Fund)

The Road Accident Fund (hereinafter referred to as the RAF) has over the years created the assurance that public road users will be covered in the event of any motor vehicle accident which caused either injuries or death, and for the losses suffered thereby, such as medical expenses, loss of earnings and even general damages (damages for pain and suffering).Before the Road Accident Fund Amendment Act 19 of 2005, which came into operation on 1 August 2008, this had the effect of any person simply being able to institute a claim against the RAF in any event of an accident which amounted to damages suffered as a result of injury or death, or even a claim based on pain and suffering. This sounded simple enough, that is until the Road Accident Fund Amendment Act 19 of 2005 came into operation, placing two very important limitations on claims from the RAF.

The first limitation relates to claiming from the RAF and/or the wrongdoer. In respect of the old Road Accident Fund Act 56 of 1996, the victim who had a limited claim against the RAF, still had a common law claim against the wrongdoer in respect of the excess amount not compensated for by the RAF. This meant that should the road accident victim only be compensated by the RAF for a portion of the damages suffered during the accident, the remaining portion could still be claimed from the wrongdoer in his personal capacity. For example, if victim X suffered damages in the amount of R200 000 and the RAF only compensated the victim in the amount of R150 000, the remaining R50 000 could still be recovered from the wrongdoer in person. This would have the effect of two separate claims. However, should the victim have received full compensation in terms of Section 17 of Act 56 of 1996 for the amount of R200 000, such victim would not have another claim against the wrongdoer.

In terms of the new Road Accident Fund Amendment Act this common law right has been abolished by the institution of Section 21 of the Road Accident Fund Amendment Act. The victim will currently only be able to claim/recover losses or damages suffered as a result of a motor vehicle accident from the RAF. There can be no more separate claims in respect of one cause of action.

The second important amendment is a part of Section 21 which places a cap on the amount of loss of earnings claimed and the amount of general damages claimed, i.e. damages claimed for pain and suffering.

With regard to the capped amount allowed to claim for loss of earnings, a victim is only allowed to claim damages up to the amount of R160 000, but this amount changes quarterly according to the fluctuation in interest rates and currently it stands at R201 337 per annum as from October 2012. Should the victim earn a salary of more than the said amount per annum, he or she will be unable to institute such a claim against the RAF. / Should the victim earn a salary of more than the said amount per annum, his or her claim will be limited to the amount dictated by the Law.

Furthermore, with regard to a claim for damages based on injuries suffered, the claim will only succeed if the victim can prove that he/she has suffered “serious injuries” as defined in the Act. This would amount to injuries sustained which has ultimately rendered such victim at least 30% disabled in his or her everyday life. This limitation does not take into consideration any personal circumstances. Similarly, no common law right exists to institute a second claim against the wrongdoer in the event of failure against the RAF.

Also important to remember is the fact that when consideration is given to medical expenses suffered, the amount is calculated according to the rate charged at a public level (public hospital rates) and not at a private level (private hospital rates).

In conclusion, it is important to remember that the RAF takes over the liability of the wrongdoer in such accidents, meaning that actions must be instituted against the RAF and not the wrongdoer in the first instance. The exception is where the RAF is unable to pay compensation or where emotional shock is suffered. In such a case, the action may be instituted against the wrongdoer in person. Any action instituted against the RAF is a time-consuming process and requires due consideration before proceeding. Section 21 of the Road Accident Fund Amendment Act has definitely placed limitations on claims that need to be borne in mind.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)

Protect yourself and your children: STOP HARASSMENT like this …

Obtaining a protection order from harassment has never been so easy and so cost-effective. But why is this important, considering that until now a protection order was only valid between persons who are in a close relationship with each other, meaning persons who are or were engaged, are or were married, have lived together, or are in a parent-child relationship? This is where the good news comes in.Before the commencement of the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011 which came into operation on 27 April 2013, obtaining an order for protection from harassment was lengthy and costly. The position has changed drastically since then.

The main idea and purpose behind the Act is to provide some form of relief to the needy and poor – those who are not able to afford a hotshot lawyer and those who are not in the fortunate financial position to make a change.

In one of the first cases in which an order was granted in terms of the provisions of the Act, it took only five hours to obtain the order, with minimal effort and cost. However, before an application for an order is considered it must be established what kind of conduct qualifies as harassment.

Harassment is most generally described as action/conduct which, according to a reasonable person, is considered to be offensive and harmful in all or one of the following ways: psychologically, physically, economically or intellectually. This would most probably result in damage being suffered by the victim. Furthermore, harassment would include acts such as spying on the person, following the person or even sending continuous SMSs, emails and letters which have the effect of duress or of blackmailing another person.

A fine distinction has to be made between messages sent during the midnight hours that would merely be indicative of a confession of love, and messages sent during the midnight hours which amount to sexual harassment that causes embarrassment.

The commencement of the new Act also ensures that “cyberbullies” can be charged and brought to book before causing harm to others. Cyberbullies are considered to be those who place explicit videos or photos of others on social networks without their permission.

This brings us to the most feared form of harassment, namely the harassment of your child. This can occur by way of threats against your child, or even confrontations which place the child in uncomfortable situations and which can be traumatising to the child. The Act provides that the parent of such a child may now obtain a protection order against the wrongdoer in order to ensure the general wellbeing of the child.

The Act even makes it possible to obtain a protection order against harassment where the wrongdoer is unknown. The Police will be ordered by the court to conduct an investigation into the matter in an attempt to ascertain the identity of the wrongdoer. This is a vital part of the Act and is indicative of the other very important driving force behind the enactment of the Act.

Due to the fact that technology is developing so rapidly, electronic harassment has become very popular, especially with schoolchildren. It is a powerful way of causing duress and intimidating another person. In this case, where the identity is not known, the court will also order the service provider to reveal the identity of the wrongdoer.

The new Act was designed to also target electronic harassment by means of the same quick application for an order that applies to general harassment.

The procedure to obtain a protection order is as follows:

  1. When a person is being harassed, the victim must merely go to the nearest magistrate’s court (it must be in the vicinity in which the act of harassment took place or in the vicinity of the wrongdoer’s residential address), and complete an affidavit under oath.
  2. Important to note is that the order will only be a temporary order and it will only be granted should the action cause the victim to suffer damages or harm.
  3. An application for a final protection order will be the next step. It will be served on the wrongdoer, notifying him/her of the date on which the application for the final order will be heard.
  4. Should such an order be made final and the wrongdoer fails to comply with the provisions thereof, the police may be called upon for help. In this case the wrongdoer will be arrested and will be punished with a fine and/or imprisonment not exceeding 5 years.

Should a person lay a false charge of harassment, such a person may be charged in the same way as set out above.

In conclusion …

The purpose of the new Act is to stop harassment. In most of the cases until 27 April 2013, the victims were left with no options, but now the Act makes provision for anyone who cannot afford legal assistance to seek an order for protection from harassment for himself/herself and his/her children.

Our Constitution exemplifies that the child’s best interest is of utmost importance in any matter, and therefore harassment of any child will be considered to be serious.

It is the duty of every person to protect himself/herself as well as his/her child from harassment by simply reporting to the clerk of the nearest magistrate’s court in order to obtain a protection order.

The new Act strives to make protection from harassment a reality through a process that is much faster and easier than in the past.

This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as legal or other professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your legal adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)